Howard served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bucaramanga, Colombia. There he met Mary Cedarleaf in 1973, and they were married three years later in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1976, Howard earned a master’s degree in business administration from theAmerican University in Washington, DC and joined USAID. In February 1977, the Howards left for two years in Lima, Peru, where he worked on loan projects. Although the CIA sometimes uses USAID as diplomatic cover, there is no evidence to suggest that Howard was anything but a loan officer. After Peru, the Howards returned to the United States, and he went to work in Chicago for a company doing environmental work. On March 19, 1983, the Howards had a son and named him Lee Howard.
Howard was hired by the CIA in 1980 and was later joined by his wife, Mary, where they were both trained in intelligence and counter-intelligence methods. Shortly after the end of their training and before going on their first assignment, a routine polygraph test indicated that he had lied about past drug use, and he was fired by the CIA in 1983 shortly before he was to report to the CIA’s station at the American embassy inMoscow.
Disgruntled over the perceived unfairness of having been dismissed over accusations of drug use, petty theft and deception, he began to abuse alcohol. He then began making mysterious phone calls to some former colleagues, both in Washington and in Moscow. In February 1984 after a drunken brawl he was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon. The charges were later reduced to aggravated assault.
In 1985, the CIA was being shaken by several security leaks that led to exposure of agents and assets. On August 1, 1985, after twenty-five years of service in the KGB, Vitaly Yurchenko walked into the US Embassy in Rome and defected to the United States. In the following interrogations by the CIA, he accused Howard and another agent, Ronald Pelton, of working for the KGB. In November of that year, Yurchenko himself re-defected back to the USSR. It has been suggested that Yurchenko was acting as a re-doubled agent, seeking to fool the CIA with wrong leads to protect one of the USSR’s then most important CIA traitors, Aldrich Ames.
The FBI began watching the Howards in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A warrant was secured to tap the Howards’ phone. On September 20, 1985, Howard walked up to a member of a surveillance team and indicated that he was ready to talk but wanted to get a lawyer first, and a meeting was scheduled for the following week. The following night, however, Howard disappeared.
As he and his wife Mary drove back from a dinner away from their home, Howard leapt from the car as Mary slowed to round a corner. He left a dummy made from stuffed clothes and an old wig stand in his seat to fool the pursuing agents, and fled to Albuquerque where he took a plane to New York. Once at home, Mary called a number she knew would reach an answering machine, and played a pre-recorded message from Edward to fool the wiretap and buy her husband more time. From New York Howard flew to Helsinki, and there he walked into the Soviet embassy.
Howard maintained his innocence until his death. He only fled, he said, because he could see the agency had chosen him to fill Yurchenko’s profile and wanted a scapegoat. He insisted he’d refused to divulge anything of real importance in exchange for his Soviet protection.
For the last nine years of his life Howard provided information about himself to Robert Eringer who was working undercover in Russia for the FBI Counterintelligence pretending to be a book publishing consultant and trying to lure Howard to capture.